Shortly after the Senate advanced a measure to extend federal unemployment benefits, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), unprompted, issued a statement intended to throw cold water on the idea.
“One month ago I personally told the White House that another extension of temporary emergency unemployment benefits should not only be paid for but include something to help put people back to work. To date, the president has offered no such plan.”
There’s quite a bit wrong with this. For example, Boehner knows jobless Americans need these benefits and knows cutting off aid will hurt the economy, but insists on spending cuts to offset the costs. Why? He didn’t say. What needs to get cut? He didn’t say. Why have Republicans supported previous extensions without offsetting cuts, only to change course now? He didn’t say.
For that matter, note that Boehner believes President Obama offered no plan to “help put people back to work.” Actually, that’s the opposite of the truth – Obama unveiled the American Jobs Act in 2011. The Speaker might remember this; he was sitting behind the president when it was presented to the public. Indeed, Boehner might also remember killing the legislation – which independent estimates projected would have created over 1 million jobs – while offering no alternative bill to boost job creation.
But the larger takeaway from the statement is that the Speaker of the House sees the Senate moving on unemployment benefits and wants to make it perfectly clear that he has certain expectations. While some see this as an emergency for struggling families and a key economic issue, Boehner senses an opportunity – the plight of jobless Americans can be exploited to advance Republican priorities.
Consider this from the Speaker’s statement:
“Dozens of bills are awaiting action in the Senate that would provide job skills training for the unemployed, ease job-destroying burdens on small businesses, promote innovation and education, create energy and infrastructure jobs, and get rid of the president’s health care law that is making it harder to hire workers in this country. To help Americans find new jobs, the president should call on the Senate to act on them.”
Hmm. With extended unemployment benefits already having expired, Boehner could take this opportunity to help people in need. Instead, it appears he’s putting together some kind of wish list. As Ed Kilgore put it, “So Boehner’s actually demanding budget offsets, the repeal of Obamacare, and presumably big chunks of the rest of the GOP agenda. In a word: ‘Surrender, or the unemployed get it!’”
Boehner’s statement concluded, “[R]ight now the House is going to remain focused on growing the economy.” That would certainly represent a pleasant change of pace – House Republicans haven’t passed a credible jobs bill in three years; their blueprint for 2014 is a bit of a joke; and the Speaker apparently believes he can focus on growing the economy by cutting unemployment benefits, which he knows would be bad for the economy.
I’m sure Boehner takes his rhetoric seriously. I’m less sure why anyone else would.